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A once operational battery plant along U.S. Highway 441 is on the path to annexation by the City of Alachua.

The 146.23-acre site broken up over three tax parcels got approval on first reading from the Alachua City Commission Monday.  Although the battery manufacturing facility is considered by many to be in the City of Alachua, the one-time major employment center has never been within the city’s corporate limits.

A concern among city leaders about contamination at the site has long been a major factor in keeping the property outside of the City of Alachua’s boundaries.

About half of the nearly 150 acres is contaminated.  City of Alachua Planner Brandon Stubbs said cleanup efforts on the site date back to the 1970s and still continues.

The half of the property now known was Phoenix Commercial Park is said not to be contaminated, but is designated as a “Brownfield site” because of the perception of contamination.  That designation lends itself to incentivizing use of the park by companies wishing to take advantage of the already industrialized site.

When asked about pending environmental or legal issues associated with the site, Stubbs and City Attorney Marion Rush said the city would not be taking on the liability by annexing the property.

Mayor Gib Coerper said he wants absolute confidence that annexing the former battery plant site will not lead to a liability for the city in future years.

Meanwhile, Coerper also lauded the Hipp family who purchased and opened a part of the site as Phoenix Commercial Park.

“The Hipp family has done a terrific job of with the Phoenix park,” he said.

General Electric (GE) opened the plant in1963.  Years later in the late 1980s, it sold to Gates Energy Products.  By 1993, Energizer Battery purchased the plant and property and added additional capabilities such as lithium ion battery cell manufacturing.

Moltech Power Systems purchased the facility in 1999 but went bankrupt about two years later.  That was the last major manufacturing the site has seen since much of the original battery production equipment was transferred to a Chinese company which purchased belly-up Moltech Power Systems.  The Chinese company was blocked from transferring the $150 million lithium ion plant originally built by Energizer. 

The lithium ion manufacturing facility remains at the site today and has since been in use on a smaller scale.  In its heyday, Energizer employed nearly 1,500 people at the site.

The annexation was passed in a 5-0 vote of the commission.  A second and likely final public hearing on the annexation is set for the city’s Nov. 22 commission meeting.

Other annexations

Commissioners also gave the initial okay for annexation of 225.46 acres known as the Jeffords property.  Located across from Santa Fe Ford along U.S. 441, the property is currently zoned as agriculture and would remain that way upon annexation.

An application by 441, LLC to voluntarily annex 17.5 acres into the City of Alachua was also unanimously approved by the commission.  The parcel is located along U.S. 441, northwest of the entrance to Turkey Creek.  That property is also currently zoned Agriculture under the Alachua County zoning atlas.

All three annexations considered Monday are set to be reviewed at a second public hearing scheduled for the Nov. 22 commission meeting.

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Latner---ASO10JBN012482Travis D. Latner

A man has been arrested in connection with a sexual battery incident that occurred in Newberry on Nov.5.

A woman reported that an unknown man held her at knifepoint and demanded sex from her, according to a press release from Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO). The attack occurred on SW 252nd Street around 12:30 a.m.

Police identified the man as Travis D. Latner, 33, and arrested him on warrants for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, sexual battery with a weapon and larceny on Tuesday in Gilchrist County. Latner was transferred to the Alachua County Jail on Wednesday and is being held with a $655,000 bail.

In September, ACSO defended its strong presence around SW 252nd street, despite complaints of police harassment made by citizens.  Lt. Steve Maynard, a public information officer for ACSO, said that extra police coverage was needed because around 35 percent of its non-traffic related service calls come from the 10-block area surrounding 252nd Street.

This is the second attack that has happened in the area since officers said that they would try to improve their relationship with the community, but would not scale back their presence. James Moment III was arrested in September for shooting a man in the face in what was apparently a drug deal gone awry.

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SinkSmithGrahamNelsonDSCF2718L-R:  Alex Sink and Rod Smith ignite a rousing crowd of supporters Monday at Gators Dockside in Gainesville as they pushed through the area on a final campaign stop

Gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink and running mate and longtime Alachua resident Rod Smith made a final push through Alachua County Monday afternoon in hopes of tilting the scales in their favor.  By Wednesday afternoon, however, Sink, democrat, conceded the tight race to opponent Rick Scott, republican.

The razor thin margin apparently couldn’t be overcome as Sink pulled in 47.66 percent of votes compared to Scott’s 48.93 percent of votes statewide.  Sink and Smith did carry Alachua County with 59.21 percent of the vote. 

Flanked by big name supporters like former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham and current Senator Bill Nelson, Smith and Sink spoke to a crowd of about 150 or more supporters at Gators Dockside on Newberry Road in Gainesville. 

Smith, a well-known local attorney, was elected to the State Senate in 2000.  In 2006, Smith sought to win the primary for democratic gubernatorial candidate.  Smith then returned to private practice where he serves as senior partner in Avera and Smith.  In 1992, Smith was elected as the State Attorney for the Eight Judicial Circuit.  He gained significant recognition regionally and nationally for his successful prosecution of the penalty phase of Danny Rolling, the man convicted in the 1991 murdering of five college students in Gainesville.

Smith and wife DeeDee reside on their rural Alachua County farm on the outskirts of the city of Alachua.

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Dedication ceremony to be held Nov. 16

A piece of the land and waters he was passionate about is going to be named in honor of Wes Skiles.

In wake of his recent death, a longtime friend of his, Mimi A. Drew, Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, initiated a request to have a Florida state park renamed for Skiles.

A High Springs native, Skiles spent his life exploring, mapping, photographing and filming springs and underwater caves in North Florida and around the world. He also avidly promoted the preservation of Florida’s natural ecosystems — especially its unique springs.

He died in July while filming at a reef a few miles off the South Florida coast. Fellow divers found him on the ocean floor motionless after he had indicated he was surfacing, and the official cause of death is still unknown. He was 52.

On Nov. 16, there will be a special ceremony to reopen Peacock Springs State Park, which is located in Luraville, near Live Oak, with its new name.

According to Florida Park Service information director Jessica Sims, the event will include guest speakers and the unveiling of the park’s new sign.

The ceremony starts at 11 a.m. and will take place near Orange Grove Spring in the park.

The event is open to the public but space will be limited.

The Skiles family, she said, has been instrumental in arranging it and will be participating in the event.

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Sue Weller and Byran Williams will fill the two open seats on the High Springs City Commission.  Their victory Tuesday night ended an election cycle where five candidates, including the current mayor, vied for the two vacancies.

Of the five candidates running for two spots on the High Springs City Commission, the three who lost had more votes together than the total between the two winners.

The number of votes cast for candidates Bob Barnas, Linda Clark Gestrin, and Bill Coughlin was higher than the total number garnered by Sue Weller and Byran Williams.

With close to 800 votes, Weller will take seat for a three-year term. Williams, with just over 700 votes, will fill the one year remainder of Diane Shupe’s term.

When Shupe resigned in February, her seat was temporarily filled by the appointment of John Hill, who was not a contender in Tuesday’s election.

Clark Gestrin fell short to third place despite having over 600 votes, and Coughlin ranked fourth with a little over 500, followed by Barnas with just under 500.

These numbers include early and absentee ballots but are not yet officially certified results.

While champagne flowed in the winner’s circle at The Great Outdoors Tuesday night, there was nothing but grim, teary-eyed faces one door down at the Coffee Clutch.

Family, friends and supporters congratulated Weller on the patio of the downtown restaurant as they exchanged hugs and shook hands.

One wall and almost 300 votes separated her from Barnas, as he sat at the coffee shop’s computer next door, mulling over election results with his wife.

Coughlin sat across the room, and between them was a table covered edge to edge with trays of food that had barely been touched.

This was Barnas’ second consecutive failed attempt at running for the city commission. He said after the way this election went he pondered if it would be his last.

Other options on the ballot included a city referendum to allow the commission to grant tax exemptions to new or expanding businesses, and the charter amendment altering the process for filling vacant commission seats mid-term, and both were passed.  

The results for this election may bring about a new direction in local government. Weller and Williams will join Vice Mayor Eric May and commissioners Dean Davis and Larry Travis on the commission.  It is expected that Weller and Williams will shift the power of majority in a more conservative direction with different priorities than were represented by the previous commission.  Add a comment

The city’s proposed wastewater line connection to Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) was the leading topic of discussion Tuesday night as the Waldo City Commission received an update about the project.

The city will reimburse Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) the estimated $5 million debt the utility will incur when building the pipeline. Waldo City Attorney John McPherson compared the cost to paying a massive connection charge. However, the exact price had not been calculated as of the Tuesday meeting.

Both McPherson and City Manager Kim Worley said the cost is comparable to the city trying to build the line itself.

The city will pay for the wastewater line with a combined grant and loan through the Rural Development Department of the USDA. The city will be required to pay back the loan portion of the financing over a 40-year period.

Currently GRU is waiting for Waldo to receive the loan and grant financing to start work on the line.  Worley estimated that the line will be completed in three years.

Mayor Louie Davis voiced concern that others could tap into the line, providing GRU gave permission.  While GRU could do that, the utility provider is required under contract to provide Waldo with 200,000 gallons and cannot cut into the Waldo reserves.

“The only thing we should worry about is our capacity,” Commissioner Rodney Estes said.

Waldo’s current capacity is 75,000 gallons and the new wastewater line will increase that capacity to 200,000 gallons.

Worley’s main concern is that water rates will no longer be set by the City of Waldo.  “I’d rather deal with the City of Gainesville than anybody else,” Commissioner Estes said in response to the city manager’s concern.

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In many ways, Alachua County voters cast predictable ballots favoring democratic candidates and causes, but some races ran in the other direction. 

Baird over Chestnut

Incumbent Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut lost her bid for re-election Tuesday, defeated by Susan Baird, the first Republican elected to the County Commission since the 1980s.

With 54 percent of the vote, Baird handily defeated Chestnut, a democrat, who pulled down 46 percent of votes in Tuesday’s election.  In a race that has historically favored democrats, Baird’s win came as a surprise to many.

A tea party candidate who began attending county commission and charter review board meetings months ago, Baird said she sought election to the County Commission in an effort to refocus the County on what she believes its priorities should be.

Democrat Sheriff Sadie Darnell backed Baird in her bid against Chestnut after the County Commission refused to adopt a budget the Sheriff said was necessary to adequately fund her department.

Pinkoson holds on

Incumbent County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, a democrat, was able to hold onto his seat Tuesday after facing off against challenger Jim Gabriel.  Gabriel, a republican, wasn’t able to swing enough votes in his favor to pull off a win. 

With 56.13 percent of the vote, Pinkoson will retain his seat on the County Commission.  Gabriel garnered 31,422 votes, or 43.87 percent of the votes. 

Having previously served multiple terms as a commissioner in High Springs, Gabriel had some name recognition, but lacked financial resources to mount a fully-loaded campaign. Gabriel raised just $11,454 as compared to Pinkoson’s $88,094.  Unlike Pinkoson, Gabriel did not face primary challengers, which is where much of the incumbent’s resources were spent.

Griffin, Oyenarte take School Board

Voters elected April Griffin with 58.13 percent of the vote over Rick Nesbit who brought in 41.87 percent in Tuesdays runoff race for School Board Member District 1.

Carol Oyenarte, meanwhile, is also being sent to the School Board in District 5 after winning her runoff with 53.52 percent of votes as compared to Jancie Vinson’s 46.48 percent of votes.

Voters limit County’s power in two amendments

Voters gave the thumbs up to a measure that would prevent the County Commission from repealing or amending ordinances enacted by a citizens initiative until after the first year and even then, only with a vote of four out of five commissioners.  That question passed with 57.53 percent of votes.

Passing with 54.89 percent of the votes was another measure which requires that any future charter amendments limiting municipal power must not only be approved by a countywide majority of voters, but also a majority of voters within the affected city or cities.

Voters turn down changes in county structure

With just 33.52 percent of votes cast in favor, a proposed amendment to Alachua County’s charter, which would have replaced the board of county commissioners with a board of charter commissioners, failed.

A follow-up question on the ballot, which would only have been enacted if the board were replaced with charter commissioners, also failed, but only slightly.  When asked if county commission salaries should be set by local ordinance rather than by the state legislature, 49.98 percent of voters approved.  Only 24 more voters were against the question than were in favor of it.  Even if it had been approved, the measure would not have been enacted without the change to a charter commission polled in the previous question.

A proposed amendment to the County charter that would have essentially made constitutional officer races non-partisan also failed.  Under Question 6 on the ballot, voters were asked if they would be in favor of converting positions such as Tax Collector, Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Supervisor of Elections and Clerk of Court into charter officers, but the measure failed with just 39.44 percent of voters seeking to approve it.  If approved, that amendment would have required candidates seeking election to those seats to do so without any reference to their political party affiliation, rather than running as a democrat, republican or some other party affiliation.

Voters don’t ease guidelines on Citizens Initiatives

A measure that would have reduced the number of electors required to sign a petition to get a citizens initiative on the ballot failed.  The referendum would have reduced the percentage of the electorate need to sign a petition from seven percent down to five percent of voters, making it easier to get a citizen-driven initiative on the ballot.  But voters turned down that reduction with 67.33 percent of ballots cast against it.

Soil and Water goes to Griffin

Bryan Griffin solidly beat Brian Bunch to get a spot on the Alachua Soil and Water Conservation District.  Griffin pulled in 63.51 percent of the 50,650 votes cast in that election while Bunch received 36.49 percent.

Airboat curfew

With 56.18 percent of the votes in Alachua County, an ordinance is slated for adoption to implement a curfew on airboats.  The curfew would prohibit operating the airboats between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. in Alachua County with the exception of those which might be used in an official capacity for law enforcement and rescue efforts.

Voters pick Oelrich, Bembry, Porter, Perry

Former Alachua County Sheriff and current incumbent District 14 State Senator Steve Oelrich, republican, will hold onto his seat after garnering 53.83 percent of the votes in his district.  One-time State House Representative and local businessman Perry McGriff, democrat, challenged Oelrich, but came up short with just 46.17 percent of the votes.

State Representative Debbie Boyd, democrat, lost her bid for re-election after challenger Elizabeth Porter, republican, picked up 53.92 percent of votes in that district.  Boyd had previously been challenged by Porter but narrowly won in that match.  Boyd picked up 40.53 percent of votes in Tuesday’s election while tea party candidate John Ferentinos garnered 5.85 percent of votes in the three-way race.

Leonard Bembry, the democrat incumbent State Representative in District 10 will maintain his seat after picking of 59.47 percent of votes.  He defeated challenger David Feigin, a republican who had 40.53 percent of votes.

In a race with two political newcomers, republican Keith Perry won his bid for election to State Representative District 22.  With 60.69 percent of votes, Perry solidly defeated candidate Jon Paugh, a democrat who pulled in 39.31 percent of votes.

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